In 2015, the Suwanee Valley Transit Authority (a special district)…..
In addition to assisting customers with helping research and recover public records from their city, county, and state government, Privacy Partners also supports our clients with the anonymous drafting and submission of Code Enforcement complaints to their local jurisdiction.
This Monday’s Mind Minute reflects on the Citizen’s Right to Property Privacy in the face of code enforcement inspections. Should Florida Citizens have an expectation of privacy? What, if any, are the limits for a code inspector to enter a residential or commercial property for an inspection?
In 2002, Polk County asked the Florida Attorney General about the authority of Code Enforcement Officers to investigate a property without the owners consent. They submitted an inquiry asking if “a local government code inspector [is] authorized by law to enter onto private premises to conduct inspections or assure compliance with local technical codes without the consent of the owner or occupant, or having first procured a warrant?”
In summary the Florida Attorney General responded as such:
“A local government code inspector is not authorized to enter onto any private, commercial or residential property to assure compliance with or to enforce the various technical codes or to conduct any administrative inspections or searches without the consent of the owner or the operator or occupant of such premises, or without a duly issued search or administrative inspection warrant.”
This issue arose again in 2009 when City of Hallendale Beach inquired if “an order of the city’s Unsafe Structures Board can substitute for a judicial warrant to authorize the city to enter premises found to be in violation of the city’s code without the owner’s consent, to abate the violations and to arrest the owners?”
In summary the Florida Attorney General replied:
“An order of the city’s Unsafe Structures Board authorizes the city to enter premises found to be in violation of the city’s code in order to abate or repair the violation without the owner’s consent, but does not substitute for the appropriate warrant to arrest the owner…. the statute recognizes that an enforcement board, having determined that a violation presents a serious threat to the public health, safety, and welfare or is irreparable or irreversible in nature, must notify the local governmental body. Upon notification, the governmental body enforcing the code is authorized to make all reasonable repairs required to bring the property into compliance. There is no mention that further process is required to authorize the governing body to enter the property in order to make the necessary repairs….This office has previously determined that local code enforcement officers are not authorized to enter onto any private, commercial, or residential property to assure compliance with or to enforce the various technical codes or to conduct any administrative inspections or searches without the consent of the owner or the operator or occupant of such premises, or without a duly issued search or administrative inspection warrant…where the violation poses a serious threat to the public health, safety, and welfare, the code enforcement board must notify the governing body which is then authorized to make all reasonable repairs to bring the property into compliance.”
An important item to note from this opinion was that the enforcement board itself is not empowered to take action against the property owner, but must notify the municipal governing board; for only they can make the motions to take action.
The issue came up one more time in 2016 when Senator Wilton Simpson asked for clarification from the Attorney General regarding the ability of Code Enforcement Officers to enter a property for inspection.
The response from the Attorney Generals Office was as follows:
“In Attorney General Opinion 2002-27, this office was asked whether a local government code enforcement inspector was authorized by law to enter onto private premises to conduct inspections or assure compliance with local technical codes without the consent of the owner or occupant, or having first procured a warrant. In discussing the provisions of Florida law relative to local code inspectors, this office noted that such inspectors are the authorized agents or employees of the county or municipality for assuring code compliance. The opinion further discussed the protections against unreasonable governmental intrusion afforded by the United States and Florida Constitutions.
This office recognized that administrative searches or inspections conducted outside the judicial process without consent or without prior approval (evidenced by an administrative search warrant) are not reasonable, unless it is shown that the search or inspection falls within one of the well-recognized exceptions to this rule. While Florida law authorizes the issuance of limited administrative search warrants in sections 933.20-933.30, Florida Statutes, owner-occupied family residences are specifically exempted from the provisions of the act.
The opinion concluded that a local code inspector is without authority to enter any private, commercial, or residential property to assure compliance with or to enforce the various local technical codes or to conduct any administrative inspections or searches without the consent of the owner or the operator or occupant of such premises, or without a duly issued search or administrative inspection warrant. There have been neither amendments to the Florida Statutes, nor subsequent cases which would alter the conclusion reached in Attorney General Opinion 2002-27.”
Reference: AGO 2002-27
Reference Link: https://www.myfloridalegal.com/ag-opinions/code-enforcement-search-of-private-property
Reference: AGO 2009-37
Reference Link: https://www.myfloridalegal.com/ag-opinions/code-enforcement-order-entry-on-private-property
Reference: INFORMAL OPINION (September 7, 2016)
Reference Link: https://www.myfloridalegal.com/ag-opinions/code-enforcement-inspectors-residential-property
Disclaimer: This information is being provided for general knowledge purposes. Florida Attorney General Opinions serve to provide legal advice on questions of statutory interpretation. The opinions of the Attorney General, however, are not law; they are advisory only and are not binding in a court of law. The information provided on this website does not, and is not intended to, constitute legal advice; instead, all information, content, and materials available on this site are for general informational purposes only. Readers of this website should contact their attorney to obtain advice with respect to any particular legal matter.